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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 10

Lessons Learned from Hootsuite: Rebuilding a Partner Program

Show Synopsis

On this episode, VP of Marketing at Allbound Tori Barlow talks with Fernanda Pires, Partner Marketing Manager at Hootsuite, and together they go back to the basis as they cover rebuilding a partner program and what they’ve been doing at Hootsuite.

Highlights:

  • How to know when to rebuild
  • Defining the vision and scope of your program rebuild
  • What steps will set you up for success

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The Script

Tori Barlow: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, the voice of the Channel. I’m Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing at Allbound. Excited to be here with Fernanda Pires, partner marketing manager at Hootsuite. Welcome, Fernanda. I’m excited for our chat today.

Fernanda Pires: Hi, Tori. Thank you for the invitation and I’m happy to be here and talk about one of the topics that I like the most. That’s partnerships.

Tori Barlow:  Today we’re going to talk about something pseudo similar to building a partner program from scratch. We’re talking about rebuilding a partner program. And let’s start with the basics. What does Hootsuite, a partner team, look like and how is it structured? Where does partner marketing fit in?

Fernanda Pires: So the partner team at Hootsuite is divided, is restructuring two major areas. We have the Alliance team and the global partner team. The Alliance team is under the product organization and we are talking mainly about the social networks such as Facebook, TikTok, LinkedIn and Twitter. And the global partner team is under the Business Development and Corporate Strategy Organization, and they’re talking about all the other types of partners, such as technology partners, digital solution providers, app developers, with selling and referral partners. Partner marketing supports both areas and we are the bridge between partner marketing and also the partners. We develop co-marketing and cross-selling campaigns to generate leads, increase customer adoption and retention rates. We also support the development of sales enablement materials, product messaging, positioning, value proposition and also go to market strategies.

Tori Barlow: That sounds like you guys have a lot going on. And it also when we spoke last time sounds like a Hootsuite just relaunched the partner program, so what were the triggers to create this.

Fernanda Pires: So throughout the years we are able to create and maintain great partnerships with amazing companies, with our teams effort and cross-functional collaboration. However, we faced some challenges to provide memorable experience to our partners, prioritize the highest performing partners, and also direct our internal resources effectively. And as a company, we have high growth plans and partner channel and ecosystem is expected to be a big driver of that growth. So we needed to optimize processes and be more efficient.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. That sounds like a great way to know why you guys are rebuilding the program and what you have going on under the hood. And curious, did you start this from scratch or was the team rebuilt from what already existed? And how do our listeners know when is the right time to think about a program rebuild?

Fernanda Pires: So the team was already doing most of the work, but it was not formalized in a program. So the partner experience was very different and with pockets of best practice, but it was not scalable. And we have many different types of partners and we avoided for many years to create a formal partner program out of fear. We can fit all of these partners into a perfect program. So instead we decided to relax a little bit and create what we feel would be one size fits most offering. Now we are creating a growth path with clear benefits, expectations and resources throughout the entire partner journey from recruitment and onboarding to management and growth. And over time, we expect to evolve this with a real focus on the partner journey, the partner experience, and making partners feel that they are part of Hootsuite and our brand. And answering the second part of your question about when it’s the right time to rebuild a partner program, I think it’s all about timing. So it varies from company to company. It depends on the market, your company goals, if your product is ready for partners, the resources you have available, if you have leadership involvement to prioritize and support the creation of the program, and many other factors. I think in our case it came from the necessity to build a better partner experience and scale and grow our business. And I would say it’s also important to say that our partner program, the formalized partner program idea, came from a VP of Global Partnerships, and he’s involved in every stop and is the main advocate of this program. And it’s impossible to create a partner program without leadership alignment and cross-functional collaboration because it’s a team work. It’s not one person’s job.

Tori Barlow: You know, I’ve been hearing that a lot lately in the same sentiment with other partner leaders, is that you really have to have exec buy in and you have to have champions on your team, and you also have to align the partner vision to the company vision or else you won’t get buy in or see success at all. So it’s interesting you say that as well at Hootsuite. Curious, what do you think are the biggest challenges when building a partner program?

Fernanda Pires: I think internal support, cross-functional resources and coordinating tools and resources from across the company to gather the data needed to plan, execute and report back on program. Success are the biggest challenges, and in order to launch a partner program, we need buy in and resources from different, different departments. So it is marketing, research, revenue, operations, sales, legal product pricing, just to name a few. And it takes time, money and energy from almost all the groups involved to get a partner program up and running. So we need to develop a great business case to show the importance and benefits of having a partner program. And if this is done well, everyone can benefit from it because it means accelerated growth, more revenue, access to new markets, verticals and brand awareness.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And then I’m sure everyone listening would love to know this the answer to this next question, but what are the steps you’re taking specifically at Hootsuite to rebuild the partner program?

Fernanda Pires: So I would say that we don’t have a specific formula and we are building as we go. And one of our early learnings that we aren’t going to launch with the perfect program and the perfect guide to everything. Our early goals are to recruit and learn so that we have flexibility to adapt and start to tighten up the guardrails of the program over time. But for now, we evolved into this kind of start up mentality that will keep us open and flexible. And if I had to go through like each of the stops, I would say that our first step was to create a small workgroup to share ideas and define the project, vision and scope. It’s really important that everyone involved understands where we are and where we want to be. Map everything ahead have identified areas of improvement and some missing pieces you need to start working on. Listen to our existing partners. Study our competitors, conduct market research. Define your deal partner profile. Identify Workstreams and create a list of benefits and incentives that your partner program should enclose. Liaise with different teams and get the support and resources you need. Automate manual processes when possible. Define your partner experience. Rules of engagement have clear KPIs, tools, resources and assets throughout the entire partner journey. Create a launch plan. And I would say that finally constantly monitor and measure the success of your program so you can adapt.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I think the measuring piece is a is a big step, but the other pieces you mentioned definitely take time and effort to get alignment internally, but also from your potential partners, you want to find the best partner for this new rebuild and understand A, why this partner would fit now versus in the past. So I think these are really great steps and good action items. Speaking of monitoring and measuring, how will you at Hootsuite plan to measure the success of the rebuild specifically?

Fernanda Pires: So we have many KPIs, I would say number of partner requests, number of partners enrolled in the program, increase, increasing partner source. So then influence and pipeline and revenue increase in partner satisfaction and also partner owner customer retention rates, a lot of partnership programs, they focus on the net new and revenue growth, but we also want to focus on the delivery of customer value. So customers, instead of us and our partners for a long time, customers are at the heart of everything we do at Hootsuite. And this is not different for our partner program.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, those you do have a lot of KPIs, seems like a lot of them are leading. Some of them are lagging indicators. We also see great success within our customers who measure partner experience, partner satisfaction. To your point, how engaged are they with the program? And if they’re more engaged, that tends to lead to more satisfaction, more revenue down the pipeline. These are great takeaways, very tangible action items for anyone rebuilding their program, but also building their program from scratch. I think it appeals to both sides of the coin. Thank you to our guest, Fernando Perez, partner, marketing manager at Hootsuite. And thank you to you, the listeners, for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you like to listen to podcasts.